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Mt. Pelée erupted at 7:50 a.m. on May 8, 1902. A giant black plume darkened the sky, while a pyroclastic flow—a superheated cloud of hot ash, toxic gases, and magma fragments—raced down the volcano's sides at hurricane-force speeds. Within minutes, the city of St. Pierre had been destroyed, its 30,000 inhabitants dead.

"In my opinion, the emergence of volcanology as a modern science began with the 1902 Mt. Pelée eruption. The highly destructive effects and death toll of this eruption spurred the establishment of instrumented volcano observatories in countries such as Japan, France, and the United States," according to Robert I. Tilling, formerly the Chief Scientist, Volcano Hazards Program, U.S. Geological Society.

Photograph by Heilprin

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